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Wie packs in the crowds

For Sunday, March 27, 2011

By Ann Miller

LAST UPDATED: 1:46 a.m. HST, Mar 27, 2011

CITY OF INDUSTRY, Calif.» A huge gallery came out to see Hawaii's Michelle Wie make a huge move at yesterday's third round of the Kia Classic. They got what they wanted early and late, but a few hiccups in between left her far from first.

Three bogeys kept Wie from putting a dent in her deficit at Industry Hills Golf Club as she fired a 2-under-par 71. Wie birdied two of the first three holes, hitting her wedge within 7 feet both times. She drained her longest putt of the day on the final hole for her fifth and final birdie.

That pulled her into a tie for eighth with three others, including 50-year-old Juli Inkster, at 5-under 214. They are 10 shots back of leader Jiyai Shin.

It would have been more, but Shin, ranked No. 2 in the world, hit her drive into the water on the 18th and took bogey. It was only the second fairway she has missed all week. She shot 70 and is one ahead of Sandra Gal (70), who had to play 27 holes yesterday.

No one else is within six.

"I've really got to shoot lights outs," Wie said. "I've got to make a lot of birdies tomorrow and make no mistakes. Hopefully I can do that."

In her first tournament in a month, small mistakes have plagued Wie on a course that leaves little room for error. Industry Hills is located just outside Los Angeles, in an area that offers golf the diversity it desperately needs — something Wie has always attracted.

She had more than 1,000 fans following her early yesterday. The exuberant crowd was predominantly Asian and Hispanic, full of small children and high school golfers.

The gallery caught its collective breath when it heard Wie hit her first drive, then cheered loudly when it saw where the ball landed. When she draped her first approach over the flag, people screamed.

"She's a celebrity," one fan said. "She has her own cult."

Katie Han, a 10-year-old from nearby Diamond Bar, waited patiently for Wie's threesome to hit their approach shots to the 11th green, then yelled out good luck in Korean. Wie signed a ball and gave it to her before they got to the 12th tee, where Han had a handwritten, bilingual sign pronouncing herself Wie's No. 1 fan.

Near the end it grew dark and the temperature fell dramatically. Galleries thinned out, but Wie still came out to a mob scene at the autograph area after she signed her scorecard. She signed everything she could reach over the fence with a remarkably quick and well-practiced action, constantly saying thanks.

When the fence started to bend with the weight of all those left, security had to escort her somewhere else, through yet another mob on the other side.

"Kinda scary," she said, grinning.

Kinda normal, apparently.

Wie tried to give them what they wanted, but two bogeys on the front and a three-putt on the back left her a bit frustrated.

"It was a day where I felt like I shot a lot better than I scored ...," she said. "I think nothing's really that bad right now. I played a lot better than yesterday. But got to be on the fairways and right part of the green, just got to make putts."

When she couldn't it was her downfall. After her hot start she missed the fourth green, hit a good flop shot to get within 6 feet but couldn't convert the par putt. She had to pitch out of the trees on the next hole, but hit her third shot to 4 feet only to miss again and drop out of the top 10.

She found her touch on the seventh, when her approach shot hit a tree guarding the green and she was able to convert a 6-footer for par. She sank one about that length for birdie on the ninth to get back under par for the day. She drained another on the 11th.

Wie hit every green on the back nine, but had 15 putts. For the week she has 95. Shin, going for her ninth LPGA win today, has 86 putts, while Gal, a German whose best finish is fifth, has only 75.

The rain-delayed second round was finished yesterday morning. Players started the third round just before noon local time. Shin led Gal by a shot at the halfway point, while Wie was nine back.

The cut came at 2 over with 71 players advancing to the final two rounds.

Kia pleased with Michelle

Kia is happy about its investment in Michelle Wie. This is the second year of their partnership. Michael Sprague, Kia's vice president of marketing and communications, put it this way:

"We featured her in one of our commercials, which was initially targeted just for sports networks," Sprague said of Wie's "Good Morning, Boys" ad. "It was so popular online and through social media we actually put it on general market television, targeted it at young people. The feedback has just been great.

"She's young, she's youthful, she's vibrant. As a brand, that's how we're trying to position ourselves — to the young, sporty dynamic and she fits all that."

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